Blue Jays: A return to Toronto seems unlikely for the 2021 season

TORONTO, ON - JULY 09: Toronto Blue Jays players take part in an intrasquad game at Rogers Centre on July 9, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 09: Toronto Blue Jays players take part in an intrasquad game at Rogers Centre on July 9, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

With the border currently closed between Canada and the United States, as well as the increasing amount of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, it seems very unlikely that the Blue Jays will play in Toronto anytime this season.

Last season, the Blue Jays were forced to play their games south of the border and eventually settled in at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. While the Ontario government and the City of Toronto had given the team approval to play in the Rogers Centre, the federal government did not give the organization the go-ahead and thus the team was forced to stay in the United States.

With the border still closed between both countries (minus essential travel), the Blue Jays began their 2021 campaign at their new TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, home to their spring training facility. As of right now, they are currently scheduled to spend their next two homesteads in Florida and then will most likely be moving to Buffalo again in early June, yet no official announcement has been made at this time. Given that the organization has made arrangements for the Class AAA Buffalo Bisons to play their home games in Trenton, New Jersey, the contingency plan is at least in place given the minor league season will be going ahead as planned this year (compared to last year when it was shut down).

As of right now, the province of Ontario is in a strict provincial-wide stay-at-home order until May 20th, and the border between Canada and the United States is still closed until at least April 21st, with a potential status update forthcoming in the next week. The City of Toronto has also banned all public events until July 1, meaning if the Blue Jays were to return before then (highly unlikely but if they did), they would not be playing in front of any fans.

While the ultimate goal for both the Blue Jays and their fans would be that the organization would return to the Rogers Centre before the end of the season, an apparent slow rollout of vaccines and with the province of Ontario struggling with increased cases in the midst of a third wave, the vision of Major League Baseball being played in Canada in 2021 is slowly starting to fade away.

Considering the Toronto Raptors were forced to play their games in Florida and all Canadian hockey teams are playing within the country, it seems unlikely that the federal government is going to allow the Blue Jays to come home any time within the next few months. Overall, it appears that any sort of approval depends on the border being open between both countries and the number of Canadians being vaccinated before the federal government will give any sports-related cross-border travel to occur.

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On a positive note, the Toronto Blue Jays players and staff are currently being vaccinated while they play in the United States, meaning the organization could use this as leverage when approaching the Canadian government to ask for permission to play in the Rogers Centre sometime later this season. Although Teoscar Hernandez did contract the COVID-19 virus, players who choose to be vaccinated appear to be undergoing their first doses, with some players even missing a few games due to adverse side effects from the vaccination process.

Speaking with Scott Mitchell of TSN back in late March, Blue Jays President/CEO Mark Shapiro mentioned that the team had not made a formal ask to the Canadian government at the time (early February area) but the plan was to make the ask at some point in the near future. A vague statement, which is to be expected given the circumstances, but as of right now it is unknown if the Blue Jays have followed up with that formal ask and where they will be playing their home games after their third homestead in mid-May.

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Moving forward, the Blue Jays are playing baseball this season, which is a positive note given the season didn’t begin last year until late June and was only 60 games long. While the team may be calling Buffalo home once again this season, the Blue Jays did sport a 17-9 record when playing at Sahlen Field last year, something that one hopes can transition to the team this season after the 6-7 start they currently have on the season. There is the potential that the federal government could give the organization the green light later this Summer, but until then, fans will have to keep watching the Blue Jays under the renovated lights of TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Flordia.